The 5 Ws of Exit Interviews and How To Conduct Them by@patrickmccarthy

The 5 Ws of Exit Interviews and How To Conduct Them

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Patrick McCarthy

Technologist linkedin:patrick-mccarthy-26a8111 Follow me on Twitter @pat__mccarthy

Very few people work for the same employee for all of their life. "A job for life" is gone and that's a good thing as movement creates gaps and allows for personal growth, experience, and market rewards. Just as we have embraced continuous learning as part of a growth mindset, we also need to embrace employment change as an opportunity for personal growth. As an employer, it's a competitive advantage to maintain a low attrition rate. Conducting exit interviews correctly and taking retention actions can have an impact on the organisations' happiness and bottom-line profitability.

Why: Identifying why an employee is leaving and take action to make your workplace better is a powerful reason to conduct exit interviews.

The lifecycle of employees goes from interviews, 1-2-1s, career check-ins, promotions, role changes, and then to exit interviews. Companies with high functioning human resource departments carry out exit interviews. They are an important element of the exit ritual, on par with handing back the badge, laptop, and farewell speech. Exit interviews are an insightful source of actionable information and can be part of a positive closure experience of the departing employee and remaining team. Companies need to track attrition rates, low levels of turnover are a competitive advantage as they keep their key employees longer.

What: There are many factors that employees leave over, some of them are within the companies remit while others are not.

"People Leave Managers" is a popular and true refrain, people also stay longer against their own best interest for a great manager. Managers are not the only reason people leave. One of the most important things a company can do is management training and mentorship. Great managers do not come fully formed, they have to be molded. The common reasons for leaving are below, exit interviews provide the company feedback on areas to focus on.

  • Money and benefits (commute, health insurance, holidays, pension, life insurance, flexible work, commute, parking)
  • life events (travel, changing careers, family circumstances)
  • Career growth opportunities
  • Training opportunities
  • Company mission does not align with individual
  • Impactful work (technology focus, company vision, values etc...)
  • Environment - conflicts with peers/managers, difficult tools or processes
  • End of project cycle - people move on after a big project, often lacking direction

Who: A company's human resource team are often the formal exit interviewers and utilise a mix of standard (good for stats) and open-ended questions.

This is used to benchmark industry salaries and benefits. Some companies conduct exit interviews for every departure, while others target employees categorised as high potentials. I recommend that 2nd/3rd line managers also conduct their exit interviews for everyone within their organisation hierarchy. They occupy the Goldilocks position of being close enough to action any outcomes, but far enough to receive honest feedback.

When: Arrange an hour-long session a couple of days after the notice to quit has been handed in, early in the last week, this gets everyone over the emotionally charged stage and prior to the employee mentally checking out. Additionally, a follow-up survey a month after the employee has left will often yield further information.

How: Have a conversation focused on the below questions.

  1. Why are you leaving
  2. What would have kept you here
  3. Any issues with any of the current processes
  4. Did you have the tools to get your job done
  5. Is the environment conducive to your personal productivity
  6. How did you get along with your direct manager
  7. What could your manager have done better
  8. What do you think about the company culture
  9. Did you feel a valuable part of your team
  10. Did you make impactful contributions
  11. Were you growing in terms of skills and experience?
  12. Were your work tasks prioritised and work-life balance considered
  13. What was the best part of your job
  14. What was the worst part of your job
  15. What was the best day of your job
  16. What was the worst day of your job
  17. Did you share your concerns with anyone at the company
  18. What other thoughts have you had about the company you would like to share

Prevention is better than cure: Exit interviews are one part of retention gap analysis that an organisation can undertake. There is a Japanese concept known as Ikigai, roughly translated as the "meaning to live" or "reason for being". It forms around the intersection of the following four components.

  1. Doing what you love (Passion)
  2. Doing what they are skilled at (Vocation)
  3. Doing what they were born to do (Mission)
  4. Doing what they are well paid for (Profession)

Companies should ensure they are strongly messaging these four components in multitudes of expression. Where they find gaps, then they need to put in place programs to close them up.


When a key employee leaves this sends out ripples, it may prompt colleagues and friends to ask themselves why they stay. This is important for everyone to consider from time to time. It's imperative for companies to ensure that those ripples hit the shoreline fast by intentionally making sure there are reasons to stay and those reasons are well known because if employees come up short on answers, more will leave. Act now to increase your knowledge of why employees are leaving by conducting exit interviews. Implement practices to increase employee retention by correctly identifying and prioritising the areas companies have influence over based upon the feedback.


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